Yacht rock it ain’t. But Skeleton Coast, the seventh studio set from Chicago’s Lawrence Arms, is something equally disturbing: A pop-punk album with an aquatic theme. I am not making this up. And I really have no idea what’s behind it. But there’s not ignoring the fact that a lot of these songs are brimming over with references to sailing and whaling, storms and hurricanes, crashing waves and treading water, yadda yadda yadda — complete with lyrics from the ’70s soft-rock sailor-romance hit Brandy in not one but two freaking songs. Of course, it isn’t all about boats: There are also a lot of references to coyotes. Again, I am not pulling your leg. And again, I cannot fathom the reason behind it. All I do know that beneath all that incongruous imagery, the power trio more or less pick up where they left off on the 2014 mid-life-crisis manifesto Metropole, proclaiming themselves dead in the water as they crank out churning, surging waves of punk power and propulsion. They are not still waters, but they definitely run deep.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Chicago-bred trio The Lawrence Arms will release Skeleton Coast, their first album in six years. Skeleton Coast was recorded 30 miles east of El Paso, TX at Sonic Ranch Studios with longtime producer Matt Allison. “It was kind of like album camp in the sense that we were in this very remote setting for two weeks and really focusing on making the record. That was a very different experience for us because we’ve always made our records in Chicago which is home and all the things about home are in the way,” says vocalist and guitarist Chris McCaughan. The album contains the elements of the band’s sound that fans have come to love for the past two decades but recontextualizes them in a way that somehow sounds perfectly aligned with this strange time in our collective history. Although it was written and recorded before the Coronavirus upended the world, the band’s seventh studio album sounds eerily prescient as it imagines an apocalyptic future where coyotes croon and wolf packs roam free. “For a band who has been around as long as us, this is about as urgent of a record as we could make,” vocalist and bassist Brendan Kelly explains. “It may be kind of dark but it’s really about searching for light in the darkness and finding it, as small as those moments may seem. That’s sort of where we’re at: Collecting the scraps of things that could make for a bearable existence in dark times.”